On September 19, Uttar Pradesh saw its first conviction under the Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, passed in November 2020. The Amroha district court sentenced 25-year-old Mohammad Afzal to five years in prison and asked him to pay a fine of Rs 40,000.

Afzal was prosecuted for allegedly lying about his identity, taking a 16-year-old Hindu girl to Delhi and forcing her to convert to Islam for marriage. The 25-year-old, who lives in Hayatnagar village in Sambhal district, sells plants and does carpentry on the side to make ends meet. He is currently in judicial custody.

The Amroha court has also convicted him for kidnapping, outraging the modesty of a woman and criminal intimidation. He has also been convicted under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act for intentional assault with sexual intent.

All sentences are to be served concurrently.

Ashok Kumar, the advocate appearing for him, said they would move the Allahabad High Court against the conviction, especially the charges under the ordinance. “The verdict is wrong,” Kumar said. “The case rests on forcible conversion, however there is no evidence on record to prove that the accused was trying to forcibly convert the minor.”

He claimed that Afzal and the girl were friends; the case against him was triggered by a disagreement with her father.

The original ‘love jihad’ law

The 2020 ordinance is popularly called the “Love Jihad law”. “Love jihad” is a conspiracy theory circulated by Hindutva supremacists who believe that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriage to convert them to Islam.

Uttar Pradesh was the first state to pass such a law. It criminalises religious conversion through force, fraud or marriage. A marriage may be declared void if it was conducted for “the sole purpose of religious conversion” or if the religious conversion did not follow the procedure laid down in the ordinance. Offences under the law are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Ten other states have passed similar laws after Uttar Pradesh.

The case

The allegations against Afzal go back to March 2021. According to the 21-page court order, Afzal had gone to the plant nursery run by the girl’s father to take some saplings. A month later, on the morning of April 2, the girl went missing from her home.

After failing to track her, the family registered a first information report on April 2. The minor was found with the accused in Delhi’s Usmanpur on April 4.

The court order also details the minor’s testimony. When the girl testified in court, she claimed Afzal had told her his name was Armaan Kohli and called himself a devotee of Shiva when he first visited the nursery in March. After that first meeting, she said, he started chatting with her regularly on the phone. It was only after she went with him to Delhi, that she learnt that he was a Muslim, she said. She alleged that when she resisted marriage and conversion, he threatened to kill her. She also alleged that he sexually assaulted her.

‘No evidence’ to show forced converion

Kumar reiterated that no evidence had been produced during the investigation or the trial to prove that Afzal had tried to convert the girl. “There are no papers or an affidavit [affirming conversion] submitted to the district magistrate,” he said.

Afzal’s family has not spoken to the media. However, his lawyer said that the case was motivated by personal grudges.

“Afzal had taken some plants from the nursery owned by the victim’s father for which he owed payment,” Kumar said. “This led to problems between them. In reality, the victim and he are friends.”

Two of Afzal’s neighbours had also testified in court and said that he was not in Amroha during the alleged incident but in Sambhal, where he lives.

After hearing the case, the court said there was “no justification to disbelieve the facts in the statement of the victim.” The court order adds, “The statement of the victim is natural and credible. The incident that happened to her by the victim has been clearly depicted in her evidence.”

Afzal has been convicted under Section 3 and 5 of the 2020 ordinance. Section 3 criminalises conversion through the use of “force”, “fraudulent means”, “undue influence”, “allurement” or “marriage”. Section 5 prescribes the punishment for offences under Section . In cases where the victim is a minor, this could entail imprisonment up to ten years and a fine.